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Source: United Kingdom
9 September 2006



"Window of opportunity" for Middle East peace talks - PM

On the second day of his trip to the Middle East, the PM said: On Saturday, the PM held talks with Mr Olmert.

The Israeli leader said he intended to meet President Abbas "in order to make real progress on the outstanding issues on our mutual agenda."


Press conference (excerpts)

Ehud Olmert:

Good Evening. It is a great pleasure to welcome a good friend, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair. Prime Minister Blair is a true and proven friend of the State of Israel, and a dedicated friend of the Middle East. Britain is Israel's staunch ally and a trusted partner in advancing many of the issues that stand in the forefront of our national agenda.

Prime Minister Blair's visit to Israel is of great importance to us all and is in direct continuation of a positive role that Britain plays under the leadership of the Prime Minister and will continue to play.  Prime Minister Blair works actively and intensively to promote progress in all tracks to create stability throughout the Middle East and his contribution is invaluable. In the last few months I had many talks with Prime Minister Blair in which he enquired, suggested, promoted and asked me to make every possible effort to advance the possible track for negotiations between us and the Palestinians.  His concern, his care, his involvement with regard to the Palestinian issue is something that I personally greatly appreciate, and I think that this has been a very powerful manifestation of leadership and concern for us, for the Palestinians, for the humanitarian problems of the Palestinians that he raised with me time and again, and I valued his support, his advice and his proposals.

He exerts great energy in ensuring that at the top of the international agenda remains caring for the humanitarian needs of our neighbours.  I can place great importance in advancing the dialogue with the Palestinian neighbours, I remain dedicated to advancing the political process with the Palestinians according to the road map, and in accordance with all of the sequence and all of its phases, starting with implementation of the first phase which calls for the dismantling of terrorist organisations and their infrastructure. There can be no shortcuts in implementing this process.

I assured Prime Minister Blair that I am ready to work closely with the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to implement the road map and we discussed at some length all kinds of ideas and interesting suggestions that Prime Minister Blair has in regard to these issues. I also told Prime Minister Blair that I intend to meet with Chairman Abbas in order to make real progress on the outstanding issues on our mutual agenda. The issue that is our first priority with the Palestinians naturally is the immediate release of Corporal Gilad Shalit.  The Prime Minister and I also spoke about the events in Lebanon, and I thanked Prime Minister Blair for the central role that Britain played in achieving UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which led to the cease-fire with Lebanon, especially in ensuring that at the top of that resolution was the release of the two abducted Israeli soldiers.

I know how close this issue is to you Prime Minister, and I appreciate very much the fact that in this very constrained timetable that you have in your visit you offered to meet with the families of the abducted soldiers. Thank you very much for this.

...

Tony Blair:

Thank you very much Prime Minister, and thank you for your very kind welcome of me and my delegation here in Israel and to your house. 

I know from my own experience as a leader how difficult situations of conflict are, and I would like to pay tribute to the quite exceptional character you showed in leading your country through what I know has been a traumatic and difficult time. It is only if you have handled these situations and taken these decisions yourself that you have some understanding of the burden of that decision making, and you have my sympathy and solidarity in that.

It is also, as you rightly say, an issue to do with the stability of the Middle East, and one of the most changed aspects of leading a country such as Britain today is that the stability of this region also now affects the stability of my country, that we live in a world in which how you fare here, how Israel does, issues to do with the Lebanon and Palestine, are issues that also concern how my country fares, and that is the same right across the world today.

...

We also, as you rightly just indicated, had an opportunity to discuss ideas about the Palestinian issue, and of course as you indicated there is a tremendous suffering, not least amongst Palestinian people, as a result of the inability to make progress here. And I welcome very much what you said about the two state solution and the road map. I think as you indicated that it is very important that we see what we can do to re-energise this process.  Now we are in a very preliminary stage of debating and talking about these things, but I hope very much in the time to come that we can make progress, and of course it is important that Corporal Shalit is released.

So I would like to say to you in conclusion that it must have been a very difficult time when Israel is beset on all sides, but I think and know that the majority of people here, I am sure, want to see what the majority of people in my country want to see, which is a Middle East that is stable and democratic, with people living side by side in peace. It is very easy to be pessimistic in the light of everything that has happened recently, but I do believe that with goodwill and the right leadership it can be done. And I thank you again for your most kind welcome to me here today and I will do all that I can to make sure these issues are taken forward in the right way.

Question:

Prime Minister Blair, now that Gaza and the Lebanon became a war zone, do you think that the unilateral approach is off the table for good? And now that you have also declared that you are leaving your office next year, looking back to your 9 years of service, do you think that the alliance with George W Bush, the President of the United States, was a mistake?

Tony Blair:

I think that is a guy in search of a story.

Well no, I don't think it has ever been a mistake to stand shoulder to shoulder with America in the aftermath of 9/11, and I think a strong relationship between the United States President and the Prime Minister of the UK is important too. And I will tell you something very, very simple about all this. I see the world in these terms, and for me this is non-negotiable because I believe it deeply, I think we face a global threat based on this global terrorism, I think it threatens not just the stability of this region but of the wider world, I think there is a link between 9/11, what happened on 7 July last year in London, what happened in Madrid, what happens in the terrorism right round this region, what is happening today in Iraq and Afghanistan where we are trying to help democratic governments, elected by their people, be free and liberated from terrorism. 

I think these things are together and however difficult it is and however unpopular it may have been, I will continue to stand up for an alliance of people who believe in peace, and tolerance, and democracy, against those who believe in terrorism. There is no bigger or more important struggle in the world today.  And of course I want to see a situation in which this region has Israel confident and secure, where we have a Palestinian state, democratic and viable, and where we have Lebanon with a Lebanese government, elected by its people, able to make its writ run in the entirety of its country, and where Iraq has a democratic government. And if we get to those positions then I think this will be of tremendous benefit to the whole of the world. It is a big struggle and may take some time to do, but it is worth struggling for in my view.

...

Question:

You have both talked about the stability of this region, there is of course great instability in British politics at the moment. You have also both made it very clear how staunch an ally you regard Tony Blair as being of Israel, and he has made his views just now very clear on the war on terror. Now given all that, isn't there a real danger that this visit could actually be rather more damaging than constructive inasmuch as we have a Prime Minister who is weakened, who is on the way out of office partly because his own party disagrees with his policy, coming here and clearly laying himself down on one side of the Middle East argument rather than the other.

Ehud Olmert:

I don't really know what is the perception in Great Britain. I understand that there is ...[inaudible]... against the Prime Minister with regard to his policy towards the state of Israel, I can tell you that we had a meeting a couple of months ago in London, but we talk on the phone very often, and the kind of interest and concern manifested by the Prime Minister on sensitive issues, not always in agreement with us, sometimes in criticism, was very significant. We don't always agree on every issue and the Prime Minister never hesitates to present his point of view about these issues to us and to demand and request that Israel address itself to many issues that concern the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians, and he repeated time and again the desire of Great Britain to allow a political process between us and the Palestinians to take place as soon as possible.

So I am not responsible for the perceptions in Great Britain, but I can tell you that the Prime Minister is very powerful in presenting a point of view which is not always necessarily identical to ours and which we have discussed in complete sincerity and frankness between us over the last few months. And he also came today with many points regarding the future of the Palestinian process and we are determined, both he and myself, that this issue must be ...[inaudible]... seriously and in order to avoid some of the unnecessary consequences that are so typical of this part of the world, considering the history of terror and everything that we have experienced. And I think that this is a very important visit, a very valuable visit, and the position of Great Britain, the position of Prime Minister Blair, is very important for us.

Tony Blair:

I am one of these people who believes that if you have a problem that you consider is as fundamental and as important as what happens out in this region, then whatever the difficulties you should at least try. And you know, I am aware of the fact that people will say well he is coming because he has got his Labour Party Conference coming up in a few weeks time, or he is coming for this reason or that, and people can be as cynical as they like, but I have been passionate about this issue and its importance for many years and I am never going to give up trying on it, it is the most you can do. And there are ideas and thoughts that we have had, and I suspect that the best thing is to kind of judge the impact of this in the coming weeks and months rather than today.

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